This was published in Film Comment as part of its News to Me digest for the week of May 14, 2018.
The Un Certain Regard section of this year’s Cannes Film Festival began last Wednesday with Sergei Loznitsa’s Donbass, a kaleidoscopic look at Ukraine’s conflict region with Russia. It’s characteristically bold material, and Loznitsa isn’t letting up with his next film. In an interview with Film Comment in Cannes, Loznitsa confirmed that he is already in post-production on a new feature—an archival documentary about the Stalinist show trials of the 1930s.
“It’s interesting because the length of the takes [of the trial speeches] is like six minutes, with a static camera,” said Loznitsa, describing the footage used in the movie. “You can feel the atmosphere during the film, what it was like at the time, how it was possible.”
Originally trained in mathematics, Loznitsa began making documentaries in the late ’90s, but his oeuvre has only grown more versatile, ranging from archival shorts and features (Blockade, 2006; Revue, 2008), observational documentaries, recent fiction films like In the Fog (2012) and A Gentle Creature (2017), and the news report–influenced work of Donbass.
Despite its found-footage construction, his next film also exemplifies hybridity by virtue of the political circumstances it captures.
“In documentaries, it’s usually like cinema vérité, 24 frames per second.” he said. “But this [footage] is a lie, 24 frames per second. All the accused, who are innocent, give evidence against themselves, and they all know that it’s a lie. The judges and the prosecutors, they absolutely know, too. They organized it. Only the people in the zal [hall] don’t know. It is staged, it is theater.”
Loznitsa suggested that this thematic concern with media-induced “theatricality” runs through his recent films, including Victory Day (2017), which documents the annual commemoration of the Red Army’s World War II triumph over the Nazis, Austerlitz (2016), which observes tourists visiting the grounds of former Nazi extermination camps, and now Donbass, which explores the making of propaganda and political spectacle.
Loznitsa said that he hopes to have the new film—which he previously has said would be titled The Trial—ready in time for the Venice Film Festival later this year.—Devika Girish